Thursday 11 August 2016

6. Another Mrs Fagan...and Her Politics

[This post is by Martin Smith]

Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard, the subject of this series (which started here) and the strongest female player in the late 1890s, was born in 1850. Today is the 85th anniversary of her death: on the 11th August 1931 - and in her honour we depart (for this post only) from the usual Friday slot.

However, today's episode is not really about her. Nor is the next one. They are more about the Fagan family into which she married in 1872; and we start, here, with her quasi-relation, Mrs Louis Fagan, the wife of her brother-in-law Louis Alexander Fagan. This episode was to have been the last in the series; but we will hold over scrutiny of Louis' brother, Joseph George Fagan (Louisa's husband) for a further episode. For now, please indulge an excursion to the outer reaches of chess relevance.  

Before her marriage, the lady known later as Mrs Louis Fagan was called Caroline Frances Purves; and sometimes Caroline Frances Fagan after it; though more usually, as was the custom of the time, she was then addressed by reference to her husband's fore and surnames. It is not obvious, from what I can find out about her, that Caroline Frances Purves' earlier life in Australia (where she was born, in 1855 I think - see note) provides any hint of what was to come later: she was an artist in water-colours, winning a "first order of merit" at the 1880-1 Melbourne International Exhibition for such works as "Roses and Dragon Fly" on satin, "Rhododendrons", "Flame Flowersetc. There are no images of her work online, but, from those titles, I am sure that her paintings were very nice. By the way, her eventual husband, Louis, was also a dab-hand in the medium: here is one of his efforts:
Coastal Views in Decorative Borders
From here
Very nice, too. Perhaps this shared talent for tasteful aquarelles was the basis of their mutual attraction: they were married in Kensington in 1887. Louis was to have a distinguished and multi-faceted career at the British Museum, and as an historian and connoisseur of Italian art and culture: he had been born in Naples (like his older brother Joseph George) and died in Florence in 1903. Caroline, however, took off in a very different direction.

In middle-age, she was, like Louisa, unencumbered by a husband (hers dead, Louisa's distant) and, in a late flowering of radicalism, became an engaged feminist; though an adherent of a more combative strain of suffrage agitation than that of her almost-sister-in-law (but, in its way, just as genteel). Thus was Caroline Frances Fagan née Purves given to direct action: but not against property (the strategy, born out of frustration, adopted by the even more radical suffragette Women's Social and Political Union), and certainly not against people: yet she and her sisters-in-struggle were not above breaking the law in a white-collar-crime sort of way. They were Tax Resisters. As an aside: this post now gingerly dips its toe again into the swirling waters of suffrage politics at the end of the 19th century into the early 20th (as did the previous one in the series) - I hope not to go under.     

By 1911 (a widow now by 8 years, and in her mid-forties by my estimation) Mrs Louis Fagan - Caroline - was appearing in reports of the activities of the Women's Tax Resistance League (formed in 1909, dissolved in 1918), the incarnation at the time of the long, and on-going, tradition of withholding tax to protest against government policy. The suffrage tax resisters complained that their independent income was taxed even though they had no vote; to add insult to injury, the tax authorities addressed their letters concerning a wife's tax affairs to the husband: witness this logic-defying missive from His Majesty's Government's Surveyor of Taxes to one WTRL activist: "Madam, for the purposes of taxation you as a married woman are non-existent".

The WTRL produced it own pamphlets, of course; but for regular reports you might have turned to "The Vote: The Organ of the Women's Freedom League" edited by the indomitable Charlotte Despard - which provided comprehensive coverage of suffrage activity home and abroad.

The Vote 6 August 1910
Note reference to chesser Herbert Jacobs
(to be the subject of a future post) 
Mrs Louis Fagan - Caroline - was energetic in her WTRL activities. She was on the League committee. She addressed meetings (here is her 10-day schedule in early May 1912 taken from The Vote: Brighton on the 2nd, Horsham on the 4th, Watford on the 8th, a Conference at Strand Hall on the 12th). She lead delegations - notably to Lloyd George, in his Treasury lair, on June 10th 1913 to present the tax/vote case. In a "breezy speech" at the meeting, Miss Lina Ashwell, the actress, objected to being treated as "an appendage" (Yorkshire Evening Post 10 June 1913). Lloyd George replied: "entitled to protest"...blah blah..."difficulties of a practical nature"...blah blah..."consult advisers" etc., and so forth. The long grass beckoned. And Mrs Fagan spoke at rallies. Here she is, photographed at Hyde Park on July 14th (Bastille Day) 1912 organised by the WSPU in honour of Mrs Pankhurst's birthday and to demand Womanhood Suffrage.             

From the Women's Library at the LSE  
Here she chaired platform No. 10 for the Women's Tax Resistance League. Kier Hardie, George Lansbury, Sylvia Pankhurst and, of course, Charlotte Despard spoke at any one of the 21 platforms at the event, and Ethel Smyth's March of the Women provided the mood music (The Vote 20 July 1912).

Someone else united in the cause was Mary Sargant Florence. We have encountered her twice before in our blogs, most notably last October in the series on chess and the Bloomsbury group. She was a founder member of the WTRL, and - like Mrs Louis Fagan - on its committee. She designed this badge for them (though I am struggling to get the nautical reference in the centre). Her charming painting of her two Children at Chess hangs - at today's date - in Tate Britain.

For No Vote/No Tax tactics, The Vote 30 March 1912 advised not paying income tax on the wife's part of inhabited house duty, or the licence fees for armorial bearings and man-servants (those were the days), dogs and carriages - "All offer excellent opportunities for making local protests in all parts of the country". The authorities would respond by arresting the offender who would be fined, with costs. The resister would refuse to pay and would be sent down. In would go the bailiffs (confronted maybe by a barricade or protest meeting) to distrain the resister's property for auction (at inflated estimates, was the common complaint) for fines and to make good the loss to HMG's Exchequer. Comrade tax resisters might buy all the property back, or just enough of it to meet the court orders (the rest of the sale would then have to be cancelled at some inconvenience to the authorities). "Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance." (Ethel Smyth)

There was often an element of farce in these goings-on. Miss Bunten of Glasgow appeared before Justice of the Peace William Martin having kept a dog without a licence. "A touch of comedy was supplied by the fact that [he] is a Suffragist and has taken the chair at a local meeting." (The Vote 24 Feb 1912). "The WSPU dray and reinforcements" arrived - "unusual for so insignificant a court" - and proceedings were delayed until the police fetched up (they "listened intently" to the speeches outside). "I protest against the unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional taxation of unrepresented women," declaimed Miss Bunten, quoting "Statute 25 of Edward I". She was fined £1 and 10s costs - or ten days detention in default. She refused to pay, of course. "A telegram was despatched...offering the heartiest congratulations to Miss Bunten." (ibid).

So, to be convicted, destrained, and imprisoned seemed like a badge of honour, and Mrs Louis Fagan had her day in court: 4 October 1912 to be precise - for non-payment of licences on armorial bearings, a male servant and a motor-car. Here she is in the list of Arrested Suffragettes on Ancestry.

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph of 5 October 1912 gave a full report of the hearing: "I pay a tax for a male servant who, though young enough to be my son, has a vote while I have none." In reply Mr Fordham, the beak on the bench at Westminster Police Court, recognised that she had a "conscientious objection" to paying taxes, but she had admitted the offence and he had his duty to do: "Defendant (smiling) : Very well, I see you want to get rid of me.  Mr. Fordham : Oh, no ; it is not you I want to get rid of.  I want to get rid of the work.  Defendant : Yes, I understand. I thank you for listening to me."  The report continues with Mr. Fordham handing down imprisonment of one month for all three offences taken together. '"I suppose that will mean 48 hours" added his Worship, amid laughter, in which Mrs Fagan joined.' At the sale of her goods, including a diamond ring, at Messrs. Harding's, Wilton Street, Victoria "a street-corner meeting was organised, and Mrs Fagan spoke from a dog-cart decorated with the brown and black of the WTRL. [She] called attention to the fact that she was not an habitual offender...her recent appearance before Mr Fordham was the first." (The Vote 19 Oct 1912).

"The first", but not the last: she was fined again for repeating the offences (but not this time for the armorial licence) on 20 June 1913, when the magistrate "though he appreciated [her] scruples...could not allow her political speeches to influence the Bench." (Votes for Women 27 June 1913) Mrs Sargant Florence was also a serial resister. She had her "plate and jewelry" removed from her designer house in April 1912. She vowed to "continue her passive protest" (The Vote 18 May 1912), and was distrained again in July 1912 and April 1913 - all most unusual in sleepy Marlow by the Thames.

One wonders if this form of protest was seen as anything more than an irritant by the authorities, to be dealt with by condescension rather than repression. However, it could not have been easy for these otherwise law-abiding, middle-class women to take a stand on their principles (they knew how to stand on their dignity), to put their heads above the parapet, and to spend a few nights in prison: 220 plus is cited as the number of women involved between 1906 and 1918 (Nym Mayhall (2003)) - and there was a handful of men, too, in support. But compare the rather cosy exchanges quoted above with the misogyny laced with enmity (and aggravated by perceived class betrayal or real social distain) meted out to the more militant middle and working class Suffragettes who dared to attack property, pictures in the National Gallery, and even the police, for the right to vote. Force-feeding took over from kid-gloves. Compare also the self-sacrifice of Emily Davison who paid with her life, in June 1913, under the hooves of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby. For a chess-related example from the sharp end see Gerard Killoran's excellent Ilkley blogspot.  

They were all fobbed off, of course, and when the Great War came in 1914 there were inevitable differences of attitude in the women's suffrage movement towards it (Mary Sargant Florence co-wrote a pamphlet Militarism versus Feminism), and the campaigns for the Vote were stood down. Mrs Fagan did her bit for the war effort in the Red Cross.

Mrs Fagan, at the bottom, entitled to a medal
She died on 21 January 1936, living at the Franzido Palace in the tax haven of Monaco - once a tax resister, always a tax resister? The Times of 29 April 1936 published details of her bequests from the remainder of her net estate of £11,803. One half was to be used to set up a scholarship for engraving, etching or painting at the discretion of the National Museum of Naples or alternatively the Royal Academy; the other half was to be shared by the RSPCA and its French equivalent.

So that was the story of the other Mrs Fagan. The series will return to a Friday for the final episode in which we will follow the fortunes of her brother-in-law Joseph George Fagan after his separation from Louisa.

Ancestry gives one birth record for a Caroline Frances Purves "about 1855" to father James Purves in Richmond, Victoria; mother Caroline Guillod. The dates for Louis Alexander Fagan are: born 7 February 1945, died 5 January 1903. His 1912 DONB entry says that Caroline was the daughter of James Purves of Melbourne, Australia. Richmond is a district of Melbourne.

The "220 plus" figure is from Laura Nym Mayhall (2003) The Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain, 1860-1930, cited on Wiki and in the resources given in this helpful blog on Tax Resistance

Other Episodes

For all chess history posts in a previous incarnation go to the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog History Index


David Gross said...

The nautical reference I believe came about this way: Tax resisters in England justified their actions by reference to historical precedent, the same way American tax protesters will reference the Boston Tea Party. In England at the time, the precedent was John Hampden, who defied the crown on the tax known as "Ship Money" and became a hero for it. Hampden references abound in WTRL iconography; see for example

Martin Smith said...

Thanks David!

ejh said...

Hampden is referenced in Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Basically a forgotten figure today (except for those of us who studied the Civil War at university) because there can be few countries whose people know less of their own history than England.

Martin Smith said...

The link in David's comment above is here.

Ilkley Chess said...

I just came across the fact that Herbert Jacobs was the founder of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage and stood as a candidate in 1910 getting just 22 votes. However seeing as you are planning to write about this I'll hold off publishing anything on the matter.



Martin Smith said...

Thanks Gerard. Herbert - what an interesting chap - blog due early 2017.

Unknown said...

Hi Martin, I am writing about Louis Fagan in the context of my PhD research on the Melbourne state gallery the National Gallery of Victoria. I was intrigued to come across the link between Fagan and Caroline Purves. Fagan was a key source of advice to the NGV in the late 1800s partly because he was in Melbourne wooing and marrying Caroline. She was the centre of a controversy when Tom Roberts and other artists challenged her award at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880. Her own less-than-loyal brother George wrote to the paper to support the challenge. No wonder she became such a strong feminist in later years. While my subject is more generally about contemporary art and the NGV, I would love to know more about your sources of information on Caroline, if you are comfortable about passing them on. Such an interesting side-note to my research.

Martin Smith said...

Hello our anon friend in Australia, nice to hear from you. So pleased someone is taking an interest in Mrs Louis Fagan/Caroline Frances Purves. I was very excited when I found the photo of her in the Women's Library in London, thinking that I had found a photo of Louisa Fagan (the chess player) in political mode. Got that straightened out, and was intrigued by Caroline in her own right, especially as she was an artist (and because the coincidence of names has caused me no end of trouble in my research}. Looking again online - prompted by your comment - I now see that she was a more serious artist than I had realised back in 2016. It would also seem that you have more insight into her role in Australian art matters than I was aware of. So I'm not sure I have much to offer you.
The material on her Tax Resistance activities I found in the sources given (found in the Women's Library, British Museum etc). As for her relationship to Louis Fagan, I pieced together what I could from online sources (including some material in Trove, if I remember correctly). I regret that there are no other academically respectable primary sources that I can point you to.
Anyway, I wish you well in your research, and success with your PhD.